Pre-Performance Routines

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A pre-performance routine is a set of habits that we do consciously or otherwise, that precede the implementation of our skills.

These habits arguably form the most influential determinant of our level of success, helping us to eliminate distractions so that we can produce instinctive and optimum performance.

Routine phases

Consisting of thoughts and actions, an effective pre-performance routine progressively readies the body for action, and intensifies our focus towards the task at hand.

To illustrate this, take a look at the following pre-performance routine for an example of how different phases can lead an athlete right up to the point of competition…

PHASE 1: Jane, a hockey player, begins her pre-performance routine the evening before a game, listening to some relaxing music, followed by meditation, and then an early bedtime so that she feels calm and rested upon waking the next morning.

PHASE 2: She starts the day of the game with a breakfast that she knows through experience is light yet nutrient-dense, thereby providing her with an appropriate level of slow-releasing energy.

PHASE 3: On the drive to the ground she recalls positive moments from recent games and training sessions, which helps to boost her confidence levels.

PHASE 4: Jane likes to arrive half an hour before the scheduled meet time so that she can take a look at the venue and conditions, go through technical drills which are specific to her role in the team, and then mentally rehearse what she wants to achieve in the game.

PHASE 5: The rest of her teammates arrive, and they all go though a collective warm-up. The coach outlines some final tactical points, and then Jane uses the remaining time before the start of the game to collect her thoughts and internally repeat a few practiced cue words which enables her to get into an ideal frame of mind.

In this example, Jane begins her routine the night before, as she believes this will help her to play at her best the following day. This may not work for other athletes who may prefer to start their sequence on the day of competition. Neither is right or wrong. All of us are unique, so all us need our own unique set of habits.

Awareness and practice

The key is to develop a routine that works for us, which can be achieved from having an awareness of how previous methods of preparation, both physical and mental, have affected our play in the past. Through this awareness, we can eliminate, add, and amend our routines to form a set of habits which ready us best for competition.

Of course, there is no harm in observing the pre-performance routines of others, particularly those who are successful, and then incorporating some of these elements into our own sequences. It is imperative, however, to comprehend that just because something works for someone else, doesn’t mean that it will work for us.

Then, as with everything, the more we practice our routine, the more we gain an understanding of its’ positive and negative aspects, which subsequently enables us to refine and adapt our methods appropriately.

The importance of flexibility

Such as life, the world of sport is a dynamic and ever-changing environment, resulting in many occurrences of which we can’t control. Arriving late to the game because of a road accident, being asked by the coach to play in a different position, and experiencing an equipment malfunction just before the start of play, are but a few examples.

It is therefore essential that our pre-performance routine is flexible enough to adapt to such challenges. If the routine is too rigid it’s liable to be more akin to a compulsion or superstition, thereby increasing the risk of us becoming a slave to it. 

For instance, the athlete who must wear a certain item of “lucky” clothing, or the player who needs to sit in a specific area of the changing room. Compulsions and superstitions can become counter-productive when we believe that, to play well, we must perform a certain behaviour in a very specific and rigid manner.

Superstition n. A widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as bringing good or bad luck.

– Oxford English Dictionary


Performance routine A sequence of task-relevant thoughts and actions which an athlete engages in systematically prior to or during his or her performance of a specific sport skill.

– Moran, 1996

In other words, our focus moves away from the performance and towards the thing we must have or do. Any routine that diminishes our attention on the task at hand makes us vulnerable when things aren’t exactly so.

An effective pre-performance routine is a sequence of beneficial habits that are not dependent on external factors, and which are able to adapt to ever-changing and unforeseen events and situations. 

Simply put, the best routines prepare our body for optimum movement, and prevent our minds from being negatively affected by distractions.

If we feel comfortable, confident, and excited moments before competition starts, our pre-performance routine has served us well.

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15 Thoughts

  1. Thanks Nathan. As cricket umpire trainers, we preach the value of routines for all aspects. Be it counting balls in an over, pre match, post match, fitness and knowledge acquisition. This is a great blog identifying how a routine can work

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We are about to leave our house headed to the “Texas Hill Country” where our son will be running the Bandera 100K trail race Saturday. His “ritual” is really more a life style of sensible training and proper diet and nutrition. Not sure he’s in race shape but we’ll see how he fares over such a long distance.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post Nathan. When I was training for my marathon I tried to develop a set of routines and eating habits that would allow for a successful run. By being organized ahead I could visualize the run and be successful. The days I “winged” it, were usually the days I struggled.

    Liked by 2 people

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